The Man Behind the Legend: A Peak into the Life and Times of Leeds' Norman Hunter
Norman Hunter made history playing as a defender for Leeds United FC, and is regarded by football fans around the UK as one of the true legends. Although he passed on aged 76 in April 2020, ‘Bites Yer Legs’ Hunter will be warmly remembered by fans of the Whites and everyone else, for his playing style and his multi-fold legacy in the game he loved so much.
The first steps of a life-long affair with Leeds
Hunter was accompanied by optimism from the moment of his birth: he became the newest member of his Gateshead-based family in 1943, in the midst of WWII, and soon discovered his passion for football. Fortunately for fans, he decided that his then career as an electric fitter apprentice was slightly more mundane than kicking a ball around, and he swiftly made his debut with Leeds United in 1962 in a game against Swansea Town.
According to the BBC who praises him as ‘a man of steel’, he played no less than 726 games in his 15 years with his beloved club – including an opportunity to play in the legendary match against Sutton United. As the same source reports, only three players have ever played more matches for the same club: Paul Reaney, Billy Bremner, and the legendary Jack Charlton.
Hunter quickly evolved to the starting centre-back for Leeds, and he formed a defensive duo with Charlton, which regularly made headlines at the time as one of the most formidable partnerships the club had ever seen. Leeds saw an upgrade to the First Division two years after adding Hunter to its roster and, from then on, a glorious legacy began to unfold, under the direction of the renowned Don Revie.
Revie guided the Whites through a successful period spanning from 1961 until 1974, when he left to take the helm of the national football team for England. As fans know, Leeds has more recently struggled to repeat similar achievements, but they are on the cusp of being promoted back to the Premier League for the first time since 2004 and were leading the outright market odds on Betway prior to the break. Marcelo Bielsa’s methods appear to be bearing fruit after coming so close last season and they would certainly be a favourite among neutrals in the top division due to their entertaining style.
‘Bites Yer Legs’ leading Leeds to victory
Yet when Hunter played for the team, the club was still shining. It was then that they won the First Division title twice, in 1968-69 and again in 1973-74, while in 1972 they took home the FA Cup and in 1968 the League Cup, as the BBC reports. They also won the Inter Cities Fairs Cup twice: in 1968 and again in 1971. Noted for his astoundingly physical and rough defensive playing style, Hunter quickly rose to prominence.
He got his famous nickname when fans sported a banner that read ‘Norman bites yer legs’ during the 1972 FA Cup final game, aimed at instilling fear against Arsenal. It became one of the top stories after Brian Clough commented on it from the studio, and the alias stuck for good.
Aged just 22, Hunter was invited to play for the English national team in the legendary 1966 World Cup, that saw the Three Lions come back with their first and only world title so far. Yet he had to yield his place to Bobby Moore, who formed the centre-back duo with his teammate Jack Charlton, remaining on the team as a replacement. That is why he had to wait 41 years, as the Guardian explains, to receive a World Cup winner medal after the rules were revised to include non-playing members.
In 1976, and at 33 years old, Hunter transferred to Bristol City for £40,000 – a fee considered very generous for a player at his age. He played over 100 games for the club before transferring to Barnsley to finish off a wonderful career. He then tried his luck managing Barnsley after Allan Clarke left for Leeds United, and led the club to a promotion to Division Two. He is also remembered fondly for his spell on BBC Radio Leeds as a commenter on Leeds games. His life has been so closely intertwined with his favourite club that Leeds named a South Elland Road Stand in his honour after news of his death reached the world.
Grit, determination, and a bold attitude are what made Norman Hunter a legend. The history of both Leeds United and English football would have been much poorer without his legacy.